verge (vʉrj)
the edge, brink, or margin (of something): also used figuratively the verge of the forest, on the verge of hysteria

to tend or incline (to or toward)
to be in the process of change or transition into something else; pass gradually (into) dawn verging into daylight

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Dear 2009

October 24, 2009

Dear 2009,

It's very hard to let you go, but the time has come.  You will take with you treasures I have held so close, and then you'll very matter-of-factly place just them beyond time's reach.

I will miss Lucky, who quietly stood in the doorway saying hello, with his unassuming smile and crooked ears, and an optimistic handshake.  We walked under cool white pines on soft cushiony needles, and we would spy on the mergansers in the pond.  Remember how they always noticed us, no matter how invisible we made ourselves? You never asked for much, and in the end, you left more than you ever took.  How did you do that?

And Diane, who wasn't ready and didn't want to go, but then went anyway.  I have your old red shirt, dear friend.  And your forever wishes. Your determination was trumped only by your courage. You did it so well.  How you did that.....

And 2009, you'll take with you my precious memories of Stuart and its little white birds who dazzled me so, and then in one sudden gust...were gone.   I savored their presence and grieved in their absence, and learned from them the solitude of freedom, and the changelessness of change.  White birds--they don't stay long, but they stick with you forever. How do they do...

But 2009, I gladly leave with you one whopping college tuition bill, a finicky furnace and deadbeat dishwasher,  and the crumpled back end of a (new) Toyota Corolla.  I also leave you my forties, 20/20 vision, my short term memory, and all hope of ever getting them back.

And in between these shades of goodbye are budding beams of hello, and these new beams flirt me forward, offering a platter of possibility more abundant and colorful than I could ever imagine.  I step forward in this 50 year old rig with the license to not care what you think about what I do, or how I look doing it. I have a blog to write! I look forward to two more college tuition bills, maybe lots of work--and then again--maybe not, and more dances to dance. I look forward to walking Reilly down the Champs Elysees, to transition-dating my way to freedom, to selling my house, to kibitzing with devil-dawgs Pam, Jess, Ellen, Brian, Peter, Mary-Claire, Lori, Gerry, Mike, Jimmy, and Tobi, and to being my new-old self.

But 2009, I will be taking my greatest treasures with me through the night and into the next year.  Sara, Libby, and Meredith, Mom, Dad, and Maeve, Mark and Genilson, Avery and Dave, Molly and Nell...I love you always, and thank you for being the bones.

Tonight brings the hardest of goodbyes, and the gentlest of hellos.  It's silent and still here tonight, dear 2009, and you will soon be gone.  But I'll still be right here, and I'll be just fine.


Monday, December 28, 2009

Dog Walker Tip #7: Routine Maintenance*

Otis has gone home and alas, I am without Dog today.  This is quite rare. This means I am unleashed.

I am also unhinged, unstrung, and unsettled.

For starters, I overslept.  To my shock, I slept right past my ridiculously habitual (and involuntary) 5am wake-up and, unlike certain airline pilots, I can't even blame it on Facebook.  Once awake, I twitched and trembled my way through the day, painfully discovering my dependency on the routine of Routine. Ohhh, how this hurts!

To some, this might have been welcomed day off--a day of quiet repose spent near the fire with yummy books, the Sunday puzzle, endless amounts of dark roast coffee, the glow of the slightly leaning tree, and perhaps Schubert's C Major Quintet playing on the stereo.  But I blew it.  I made a fire and then ignored it.  I picked up the Book Review but got only as far as Letters before having to reheat the coffee I lost but then found again as I wandered the house.  I looked for my reading glasses only long enough to discover that the fire had died and needed restarting. I then discovered the wood on the porch needed to be moved to the rack inside.  But after only one armload of wood, I noticed that the birdseed needed refilling so I abandoned the logs for the feeders. I then tried to look at dog pictures to stay on the cutting edge of dog-ology but then remembered I hadn't found my glasses.  This temporarily motivated me to take a dog-less walk until I noticed the snow and consequently changed my mind, opting for the fire, books, coffee, and the Schubert--only to realize that I don't have that particular Schubert.  This took me on a cruise through itunes to see what's out there, only to find that I have a bunch of unidentified music in my library.  In the end, I accomplished nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  And if I had wanted to do nothing today, I would have done a much better job of it.

Routine is a great invention.  It gets things done.  It provides security.  It makes cumbersome schedules cumber-less.  Routine is both liberating and grounding.  But, as in my case, too much routine leads to mental stupor.  Routine gets me dressed very quickly everyday, and while I can be sure that I'm dressed, don't ask me what I'm wearing because I probably have no idea unless I look.  Clearly today's twitching proves that I have failed to heed the call for Routine Maintenance--a process whereby a routine is un-routinized, scoured, rinsed, re-evaluated, and then reinstated.

To maximize the benefits of routine, schedule in regular maintenance checks. Trade the art of routine for the art of spontaneity.  Dismantle your current routine, no matter how well it works. Learn how to temporarily function outside a routine.  Forget the clock, the chores, the plan.  Pick something--pick a few things--and do them backwards, upside down, inside out, or not at all.  But do them with purpose and resolve.  Then, when reassembling your old routine, pick one teeny little part of it that you can enhance or do without.  This will keep you fresh.  This will enhance your alertness when you resume your routine.  You will know what you are wearing because you paid attention when you put it on.

Learn from my mistakes.  Practice spontaneity. Do this routinely.

*I dedicate this post to my Mom and Dad. Wink, wink.....

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Otis Morning

Otis is back.  His timing is always impeccable.  He moved in on Monday with his special blanket and duffle bag, and his favorite bedtime sweet potato snacks.  He brought me a very sweet gift--a lovely book, and his own gift to himself to put under the tree.  He thought of everything.

My timing, however, is horrendous.  Some people have built-in dimmer switches--little dials that provide a nuanced range of choices between all-the-way on and all-the-way off.  I'm not one of them.  Instead, I have just two settings: overdrive and sideways.  Consequently, I am just now cleaning up from Thanksgiving and doing all the Christmas shopping, cooking, and cleaning in the two days before Christmas (overdrive) while also deciding that there's no better time than Right Now to sit down to write some blog (sideways).

Otis' timing requires that I forgo overdrive and sideways every four hours to go out and play with him.  He's my plug-in dimmer switch.  He has a way of getting his point across:  when I get going too fast and he starts seeing contrails in my wake, he comes and leans all of his weight on me.  He's very big, so it's impossible to ignore his message.  I sigh, he barks with delight, and off we go to run and laugh at ourselves.  And whether I'm writing, working overtime, or madly careening through the stores, my mind is grounded by Otis and our walk schedule.  Otis keeps me on task.

Overdrive and sideways are useful settings at times.  They demand great efficiency and creativity. I've done my best work in these zones. They are also great noise-makers, the inner racket usually being the loudest and most distracting. But something caught me this week. During our early morning walk when it was just the two of us and the earth, I was stunned to suddenly hear the quiet of winter.  There was no sound at all. At first I didn't know what I was hearing--I didn't recognize it. There was just gray on white under a pale pink sky. It was so painstakingly quiet that had it not been for Otis and his stride, I might have crumpled under the weight of such stillness.  It's easy to miss this in overdrive.

Perhaps overdrive is easier.  Overdrive allows me to mask the solitary stillness of my winter.   This quiet is slightly uncomfortable. As I said, Otis came at the right time.  I might otherwise miss this. Early each morning he nudges me back out into the deep quiet.  I trust him.  And then it dawns on me.  Perhaps it is in the deepest of quiet where the best work is done.

Otis and I wish you joy in the noisiness of this season, and peace in its quiet.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Love Story

[Don't laugh.  They're serious.]

They've been together a long time.  They are no longer madly in love.  No, better.  They're quietly in love, the kind of in-love that doesn't require ownership.  He does his thing, she does hers.  He walks along slowly and mumbles to himself about this mailbox, or that pile of leaves, while she races up ahead and back behind, always circling back to him, to check.  That's the quiet part.  Those checkpoints.  A lot goes on in a checkpoint. They're brief, but key.

I've studied this.

At dinner time, he wolfs his food and then waits over to the side while she chews each bite eighteen times, then sips a little water, and briefly admires the presentation before taking her next bite.  When she's finally finished, she looks over to him and again, that checkpoint.  Something is conveyed.  She leaves the room for who-knows-where, and he ambles over to lick her bowl clean.  She has left a little something for him.  She does every time.

One day he wanted to build a snowman.
She said sure.
When they finished his snowman, she wanted to get dressed up.
He said sure.

It didn't get any louder than that.  They each did their own thing, making some sort of quiet magic together.  I'm in love with these two. They love me back. We have our own checkpoints.

That's how I got in the picture.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Awed and Shocked

See  that patch of green behind Millie?  Don't count on seeing that again until April.  That was only a few days ago.  Since then, the snow has fallen along with the temperatures, and it's now so cold that I'm sure it will be April Fools Day before anything thaws.

But make a note of Millie's face.  Looks pretty happy, doesn't she?  She is.  And if you can imagine it, she looked just as happy today when I took her out for her mid-day walk through bitter cold howling winds and crusty jagged snow banks.  You had to be there to see it, but when I opened the door to let her out, without hesitation, she barreled onward without so much as a shudder or flinch. She seemed to vibrate with enthusiasm.  She's undaunted by winter, and I am in awe of this.

I, however, have known about winter for the last 50 years and yet every year its arrival comes as a shock, and even within each day, I experience secondary shock each time the door opens.  I let everyone know about my shock.  I curse it, I whine, I refuse to take my coat and hat off in the house, I count the days until Opening Day, I horde root vegetables, I lean on the andirons.  The catalogues refer to Thinsulate, down, fleece, and shearling as outer wear.  For me, it's inner wear.  I'm certain the cold air is hurting me.

One of the perks of being a dog walker is being so intimately involved with the changing of the seasons. Walking the same routes 365 days in a row provides an opportunity to see, smell, and feel the land rhythmically age.  Only a few days ago did I pay attention to the span of field I was on, noticing how unsuspecting it seemed.  I knew what was ahead in the days to come, but this span seemed so trusting and open, and I was awed by this.

Yet last week's flash of insight failed to prepare me for the onslaught of winter when it arrived this week. I indeed knew it was coming until it actually came, and then it came as a shock.  As I was walking with Millie this afternoon, I watched her happiness.  Wanting this for myself, I followed her lead and began to run up and down the crunchy banks behind her.  My scarf was triple-wrapped around my head and I had so many layers that I couldn't bend any joints, but nonetheless, I felt something new.  It was fleeting, but it was there.  I set aside my shock just long enough to experience the soothing consistency of the earth's rhythm.  Winter is here again.  Here, and again.  Its dependability is a comfort, and I am in awe of this.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Dog Walker Tip #6: Disregard Dog Walker Tip #3

Um, yeah.  That thing I said about wearing cowboy boots while you're walking dogs?  That only applies if there's no snow on the ground.

Don't wear cowboy boots right now.

Boots, yes.  Cowboy boots, nope.

Trust me.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Prelude Pride

I'm not sure how I feel about this.  I am just back from my first Kennebunkport Prelude.  I was in the best of company--5 of the smartest, sexiest, and most sophisticated women I know.  Maine sizzled from the moment we crossed over the Pisquata until the moment we crossed back, no doubt.  But while I was made to feel welcome by the locals and shop keepers, I worried a little about a group that was under-represented.  

Prelude is a weekend extravaganza to welcome in the Christmas season.  Not holiday mind you, but Christmas.  There's a spectacular tree lighting.  Streets are closed to traffic.  There are fairs, food fests, elves, Santas, and people dressed in red and green sparkles with Christmasy doodads on their coats and bags.  There are chestnuts roasting on open fires while Jack Frost nips at your toes. The weekend culminates with the famous Hat Parade, a splashy hoo-ha where hundreds of jolly Xmas-uals march in outrageous costumes, hats and paraphernalia. You could call it Christmas Pride.

But imagine my dismay when on the first morning out, we came across this sign:

I was mortified.  Right here--posted smack dab in the middle of the post office door--was this sign!  If it had said No Dogs, Cats, Horses, Sheep, Pigs, Goats or Cows, I might have felt less shame.  But it just said No Dogs.  No dogs. Horrors. What kind of place was this?  And how did I get here? Once I was able to catch my breath I decided I would proceed onward.  Surely this sign was a mistake and not representative of the whole dang town.

We were quickly swept up by the Christmas razzle dazzle and enjoying our stroll when I became aware that actually, there weren't many dogs.  The more I looked, the more scarce the sightings.  Maybe one here or there, but mostly the streets were eerily devoid of four-leggeds.  I became more anxious.  I began to sweat.  I raced to the pet shops--two of them--to find some sign of doggy diversity.  At last!  I found a pair of beagles--a brother and sister--who were being suited up and made to look like--yup, you guessed it--a couple of yule tide dogs.

Now I didn't get the feeling Brother Beagle was too thrilled with the red snowflake rig his mom was making him wear.  He seemed to be blushing with embarrassment.  And to make matters worse, his sister was wearing a matching outfit. Yes, that's right.  Matching.  Brother and sister. Like, yuck. Though Sister seemed to be more willing to cooperate, I couldn't help but feel apologetic for their predicament.

And then after spotting the twin beagle yule dogs, along came a solo boy dressed as a reindeer. He was practically sobbing in his water bowl. And of course, in this town of mostly Christmas two-leggeds, dogs in drag get all KINDS of attention. I thought of the post office.  I looked at the spectacle before me.  I now understood.  This was not a fun place or a fun time for a dog. Hummmph.

Humbled by a new awareness, we went on to the rest of the festivities.  Being a two-legged, I felt quite welcome and accepted.  I knew I could walk in to any shop, restaurant, or post office with no worries.  I had The Look.  I shopped and I dropped.  I communed with the cool coffee crowd at the crowded cafe.  I oohed and awed the tree lighting.  I braved the infamous foot bridge through town and I payed homage to the lobster pot tree.  Hell, even with chattering teeth, I admitted the snowfall was pretty. And it was...

And then one of the five from the team of Smart, Sexy, and Sophisticated--let's call her Pam-- came up with a brilliant but daring idea.  Instead of  standing idle in the face of such dog gone inequity, we would join ranks and march in the grand hoo-ha parade.  That's right.  We would march for dogs everywhere.  We would march to end the post office ban on non-seeing eye dogs.  We would march for dog dignity.  We would march for dog nation. We would end this dogscrimination.

With that, we donned our marching hats and began our walk.
Crowds gathered and cheered.  We waved, they praised. From one end of town to the other, we turned heads and changed hearts.  [We also froze our asses off.] Using our two-legged power, we worked for change for our four-leggeds friends.  We know it worked.  As we were heading out of town the next day, we drove to the beach and looked towards the sea.  There, running along the sand, free and unfettered, were dogs.  Beautiful dogs. Dogs, as dogs. Big ones, little ones, fat ones, skinny ones.  They were chasing balls and sharing them. They were kissing the waves on the water's edge. They were smiling with pride. They were welcome, and they were very happy.

Friday, November 27, 2009

A Poem About Turning 50

Woof woof woof.
Bark bark bark.
Howl, Howl.

Woof woof woof.
Bark bark bark.
Howl, Howl.

Woof bark howl
Howl bark woof.




Oh, Sniff....

Maeve Hits Her Mark (et al.)

Thanksgiving Day is the Magnum Opus of Corgi-hood.  Maeve, like Twyla Tharpe, choreographed the day with stunning success, bringing forth various textures, themes, tastes and tales with unparalleled artistry and verve.   A good corgi does this instinctively, but Maeve is a virtuoso, the Yo-Yo Maeve of her breed.  As her flock gathered for the day, Maeve whirled with poetic grace, greeting each new arrival with euphoric expectation while simultaneously managing more acrobatic maneuvers such as supervising the lifting of the turkey from its pan and onto the carving board, and catching crumbs before they hit the floor.  But Maeve's real magic took place beneath the surface, transcending the technical demands of the day and lasting well beyond.

Maeve's magic comes from knowing her charges and tending to the uniqueness of each one.   This flock is a diverse cast of flock-ees, a cacophony of rather contumaciously-infused characters (and that's putting it lightly).  There's Dave, who glides in on a blues riff, all jammin' and jivin' to the sound of ssssound. We have babes Molly and Nell, quiet, clever, and like, wickedly cool.  And then there's Genilson.  HelloGenilson (liquid in leather) whose warmth makes you believe he would hold your hand forever. Avery weaves time into gold and gold into a stunning web of silky loominosity while ever-generous Mark flew from Turkey (for turkey),  bringing exquisitely beautiful Mark-like soaps to his fellow flock-ees.

Maeve is most attentive to the senior members of the flock, the Nana and the Gramp, who require the most supervision and guidance.  While Nana has perfected the Art of Detail, it's hard to imagine where she would be without Maeve's steadfast presence in the kitchen at critical times.  Maeve watches ever so closely, studying each nuance of Nana's tone or gait and then with artistic genius she sets the stage for Nana and Gramp to tango (and tangle) in their own dance with the stars.   Maeve hovers over Gramp--he is her primary charge-- and only when she is sure he is safely settled in for his dinner or nap does she lean against him to admire her work. You know all is well when Maeve wraps around Gramp's feet.  That's how we know.

So the day unfolded and the magic happened.  We were all well fed and well heard.  We each turned a little older and a little better.  We took our time and we noticed each other. And as we all stood to leave, Maeve started her usual clamor, circling us and calling us each by name, shouting thank you for being here, thank you for coming!  And her spirited cheers were silently echoed deep in our hearts and memories, quietly woven into the fold.

Thank you, she says.  Thank you...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Dog Walker Tip #5: Hunters Versus Divas

Tired of walking in the woods and dodging bullets?  Do your dogs pretend they don't know you when you put on your orange hunter-repellant vest and sweat pants?  Do the kids hide your favorite dog-walker-hunting-season cowbell?  Wishing you didn't have to walk commando-style against buildings and backyard fences?  I might have just the solution for you!

All too often I encounter weapon-wielding characters (in poorly styled and fitted camouflage, I might add) while I'm out there trying to just do my job.  Though I do limit my time in the woods during this annual shoot-fest, there are still times that the woods call to me just a bit persistently and I can't overcome the urge to go.  This causes a great dilemma:  how to walk the trails while maintaing Diva standards of style, and also live to tell about it?

The issue has caused great controversy over the years.  Hunters love to hunt.  Dog Walkers love to dog walk.  But neither group is all too happy to see each other out there on the same playground.  Last week I cheerfully chirped hello to a man-shaped silhouette standing in a tree over my head.  I took it from his silent-treatment of me that he was a little irked by my presence.

The issue at hand is how to walk safely while maintaining fashion dignity.  For some reason, Day-Glow orange seems to bring out the worst in designers.  From New York to Paris, it's hard to find anything that is capable of alerting hunters while also speaking to your inner Diva.  In an effort to uphold high fashion standards for my profession, I have resorted to designing my own little number (from my 2009 Fall Dog Walker Hunting Season Collection).  This lovely swing-style reversible cape drapes well and clasps with velcro tabs.  It can double as a saari and is machine washable.  Although not completely bullet-proof, hunters will see you coming and notice the good fit and freedom of movement this garment offers.  Even better, deer, ducks, and pheasants will love seeing you arrive and will cheer your visibility.

Hunting season need not be so controversial.  With a little fashion make-over, dog walkers might not  own the woods, but compared to our camouflaged counterparts, we set your sights.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Dogtorate Degree: The Art of the Paws

I am a card-carrying, licensed dog walker.  Most people probably could have grabbed a leash, fetched a dog, and slapped a business card on the cafe bulletin board to earn the same credentials.  But I'm a slower learner, and I have a tendency to take the most indirect route possible, usually landing far off from where I intended.  If I had a dime for each time I've wondered how I got here, I'd be walking with dogs in Ipanema, Taormina, Costa Rica or Argentina.

For whatever reason, I was born with only 2 buttons: Stop and Fast Forward.  I lack the standard-issue Pause button which turns out to be an essential tool for dog walkers.  [And, as a side note, I can't quite prioritize tasks either.  When I first get home at night, I (still) chaotically shout hello, drill through the mail, start the rice, check Facebook updates while texting my boss, and go piddle (dog walker-ese for pee) all at the same time, creating quite the spectacular frenzy. This is where a Pause button would come in handy.]  Instead, I've had to manually install my own button which I've created with the leftover spare parts from other projects of mine over the years.

A Pause button initiates listening. And I mean really listening. Here's how to listen: get yourself a cello and play some chamber music. With the help of Brahms or Schumann, you'll pull your head out of your own busy sounds to listen with curiosity to what the first violinist is saying, responding with a contrasting idea, or maybe an echo, and in the most sincere way. And if you listen really closely, you'll hear that it isn't always your turn to respond. It might be someone else's. This requires patience and waiting for others. It also sometimes requires jumping in and then jumping back out. The uniqueness of your contribution is built, paradoxically, on your very careful and attentive listening to others.  Listen as if all that existed was that sound. Get so curious about what you're hearing that you vanish into its center.  You'll need to apply this kind of curiosity when you play with your dog. He'll need you to listen that closely.

And after you've started listening, go back to school (yes, again) to study learning. Dive into human development so you can understand your maturity or, as in my case, immaturity.  Study the essence of your confusion and find it's correlation to understanding.  Learn to teach so that you can be taught.  Your dog needs you to not know everything.  Your dog has much to teach you.   Paws to understand (Forgive me for that sentence. I couldn't help myself).

And finally, now that you're listening and learning, throw everything you think you understand into mid-air, let it scatter and step out of the way, letting someone else (like your dog) catch it. Notice what this understanding looks like to him.   Hold his understanding as absolute truth, and meet your dog right where he is, as he is.  Hold his true nature, while helping him to soften his rough edges and allowing his best traits to emerge.  As therapists, we call this unconditional positive regard. We strut around like we invented it (but we didn't).

With a little listening, some understanding, and an ability to meet your dog right as he is, you have all the components of a Pause button.  Mine is firmly attached although I have not yet found a way to set it on autopilot.  Each walk still requires a manual reset on my part.  But without this Pause button, I wouldn't be dog-walking, I'd be just walking--with a dog.  And when I'm actually dog-walking, then I see that he instinctively pauses (yes, instinctively!) and sniffs a lot. He pays such attention to scents and sounds that don't begin to register with my senses.  Apparently, there is much more happening on the surface of the earth than my senses and skills can discern.  He's pointing me there.

And I'm kind of getting curious about that...

Perhaps there's a dogtoral program out there for me.  Of course for such an undertaking I'd have to learn to prioritize tasks and my side-tracks.  Maybe I'll have to start by practicing my nightly entrance home a few more times. But just maybe these dogs can teach old me new tricks.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Priorities vs. Demands

This is Boo when I first arrive for his walk.

You can see that he's not exactly springing to his feet.

This is Boo after the walk and just before I give him his biscuit.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

My Love Life

Seems like now is just as good of a time as any to talk about my love life.  It might appear to some that I don't have one, or whatever one I have is a mystery. I can tell this by the way people address me. I got an invitation last week addressed to Alice and Guest.  Use of the word Guest implies an unknown.  It comes off as a subtle question mark. Depending on my mood, I wince or preen as I translate it:

a) Alice and (probably can't find a) Guest:  you poor, old, lonely, aging 50-ish thing
b) Alice and (skip the) Guest: hot tickets don't need any embellishment
c)Alice and (who's her lucky) Guest: picked from the throngs of admirers
d) Alice and (please bring a) Guest(so the place settings will be balanced): we're looking for balance

So at the risk of breaking all kinds of hearts, I'm going to share all about my love life right here and right now.  Uncensored and in graphic detail. Send the kids out to play.  Probably going to earn myself an R rating.

I have a sizzling love life. Well, I sort of have a love life. Ok, it's not exactly a love life. It's a life, and it has love.  But....

Here's the thing.  I got to thinking about things today because I had a date with my DBF (dog boyfriend) Tucker. We wandered down to Mayfield where we spent much of August, and we sat on our favorite bench overlooking Gibbet Hill.  We like to sit on this bench together, he and I, and we whisper things to each other.  He takes everything I say so seriously.  And he sits very close to me, as if together we make up the whole entire universe.  He's a very manly guy, but he also has this very sensitive side.  If Goldens could play the guitar, he'd be playing it and singing words that he wrote, wrote just for me. He always loves to dance as we head home. I hadn't seen him in a few days and it was like summer again as we wandered down Mayfield.  There's no expiration date here.

But as much as I love him, later that day I had a thought about our relationship.  Tucker's always going to be my DBF.  Forever and ever. But I, I am a G. Tucker's a D.  G=girl.  D=dog. Do you see where I'm going with this? It doesn't quite work out, does it?  And more to the point, while I know he loves me back, it's not as his GF (gasp).  All I'll ever be is his DWGF (dog walker girl friend).  What I'm trying to break to you is that it's never going to be any more than it already is.  I had to say it out loud to him.  He knew it too, and after silent but accepting nods, it became a poignant moment for us both.

But I have all kinds of other dawgs who put the love in my life--my student dawgs, my family dawgs, my college dawgs, my dog dawgs, and my Tuesday night dawgs.  And the love flows in all these places.  I have an abundance of love in my life and it comes gushing like a river.  Each day, I get to ride its current, and I know it. It is indeed a love life.

But I am also still a G.  And I am in need of a Guest of the a) 50-ish and single, b) independent, c) admiring, and d) balanced type (see a through d above).  Manly two-leggeds who perhaps play the guitar, love to walk and dance, listen very closely, and can speak with their eyes will be invited.


Do Go

I waited for the next inhale.  I waited even though I knew there wouldn't be one.  And for an eternity, my own next inhale hung over her, waiting.  I knew this moment was inevitable, and I never saw it coming. As the seconds turned into minutes, uncertainty gave way to finality and I could only rest my forehead on hers and let the weight of the moment wrap us in quiet.

It was just three weeks ago today.  Only three weeks.  I've had so many inhales and exhales in that time, most going effortlessly and unnoticed.  I've laughed until I've cried, and I've cried until I've laughed.  Today it's raining just as it was that day.  I hear her voice.

"I want the popsicle in a tastes better that way".

"I just want to get healthy".

"How much longer do I have to breath this way..."

"I know it's ok.  But I don't like it".

"I'm so tired".

"But I can't make plans".

"Go do go do go do go do go do go do go do go".
(What did she mean? Do go?  Or go do? I urgently needed to know.)

"Yeah, I'm still alive..."

And here, three weeks later, Reilly is curled in my lap and I feel the rhythm of her breathing against me, and its warm reassurance has volume. I pause on the verge of the rest of this day.  Urgency has given way to calm.  I know what to do with this day.  Do go, and go do, because yeah, I'm still alive...

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Dog Walker Tip# 4: Walkaholism

Walking dogs can make you feel really good, especially if we're talking about a day like today.  It's early November and it's clear, sunny, and the air temperature is very friendly for this time of year.  Everyone is outside, and feeling good is coming easy.

Even on the days when the weather is more challenging, there is something quite pleasing about coming in out of the cold, with the smell of cold air clinging to your clothes and hair.  You and your dog look at each other with a nod of approval and mutual adoration.  "That felt good. What a good walk", he says with his gaze. You have your own little private club with this walking routine, the two of you.

So the feel-good feeling sticks.  So you walk again.  And then again. And yet again.  After all, this is what dogs need and want, and a walked dog is a contented dog, and a contented dog is a calm and quiet dog, and a calm and quiet dog is a calm and quiet dog walker. And so the routine is established and depending on certain factors such as time availability, family history, and frequency and duration of the walks, a bit of dependency can develop.  In no time at all, dog and walker are out there everyday thinking about nothing except the next chance to walk.  Dog and Walker become so focused on getting to that next walk that no weather situation, no backlog of unfinished housework, and no amount of fatigue will deter them. It's subtle and easy to confuse, but there's a fine distinction between walking a straight line, and walking into trouble.

Signs of a walkaholism include:

  • sneaking out to walk alone with your dog
  • lying and saying the dog made you go
  • telling the boss you're at a meeting and then dashing home to walk your dog
  • silently wondering if you need to cut back on walking
  • craving a walk
  • walking early in the morning in your pajamas, your daughter's zip-up, and your cowboy boots, and not caring who sees you

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may have a walking problem.  Withdrawal symptoms range from muscle stiffness to moodiness and headaches.   Fortunately, symptoms are temporary and don't require medical supervision.

But don't let this happen to you.  While walking your dog is a good way to feel good, and feeling good just plain old feels good, too much walking and too much feeling good leads to the inability to tolerate anything that isn't about feeling good.  This is called walkaholism and as they say, once a walkaholic, always a walkaholic. It is therefore suggested by old time dog walkers that a day of rest be taken every few days.  That's right.  Lay on the couch, read the funnies, scratch your belly, read catalogues.  Waste time.  Do nothing and do it with all earnestness. This will vastly improve the quality of your next walk and curb your walkaholism one day at a time. This practice will not only rest your dog and give him a day to snooze and dream chipmunk dreams, but it will allow you to replenish your energy levels and reflect on your progress.

Most importantly, it will just plain old feel good.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Reilly: Plays Games, All Sorts

How cute is this?  I mean, just how cute is this? And Reilly is not only melt-in-your-mouth cute, but she's just so dang happy!  And while I've joined the ranks of thousands who are sneezing, coughing, whining and whimpering, Reilly has donned her charm and become my very own personal Mary Poppins, being ever so cheerful and attentive, and pulling all kinds of magical remedies out of her tapestry bag.  I couldn't be in better hands, er, paws.

For example, to help me out, Reilly has eagerly taken charge of waking Meredith each morning and--very funny thing--Reilly doesn't discriminate between weekdays and weekends, showing Meredith how to make the most of the early daylight hours this weekend.  Thanks to Miss Rise and Shine, Meredith has discovered sections of the day she never knew existed!  This is a very good thing when college applications are due, like, now. As Mere exclaimed Sunday in her early morning fog, "Reilly's just so, so, so cute".  Meredith is smitten. And--the bonus--she's up early!

Reilly has not only taken over certain chores here at the house, but she has also asserted herself as nurse-maid, turning herself into a live 'n kicking hot water bottle, keeping me warm wherever I am.  If I need warmth on my lap, she perches on my lap.  If I need warmth on my belly, she lays on my belly.  She's got that dog-sense that tells her right where my hurt is, and she goes there. I'm also smitten.

And then also in her bag of tricks is her sense of humor and lots of indoor games, for days just like these.  Yesterday we played our own version of America's Next Top Dog Model.  Deftly going from doting nurse-maid to sex-i-licious siren, Reilly wrapped herself in a faux cheetah throw and proceeded to wow us all by steaming up Meredith's camera, showing just what a seductress and flirt she can be.  She showed us coy.  She showed us fierce.  She showed us pouty. The camera pulsed, the room sizzled, and Reilly smoked.

Alors....When the winds change, Reilly will be packing her tapestry bag and donning the magic parrot umbrella, I know.  Up, up, and away she'll go to lands far away, spreading her warmth and cheer and cuteness.  How we will miss her, and yet how lucky we are to have this time with her! When that day comes, we'll blow her a kiss, and that will be lucky, too.

Saturday, October 31, 2009


Cody showed up in the doorway as a gift.  I don't mean that he is mine--I only met him once.  But he came quietly and left me the gift of abiding companionship.

It had been a strenuous journey.  Exhaustive trips to doctors and hospitals were now over, but inwardly the effort had intensified. In the last few days, my ear had become fixated on Diane's breath, and each inhale was noted and evaluated.  Each exhale was noted and evaluated.  Each single breath was its own accomplished performance and each commanded attention.  I wondered at what point the breaths had become voluntary.  What was impelling each new inhale--the body or the soul?

By early Saturday morning, her fatigue was beyond relief.  I sat on her window seat wrapped in a blanket, staring at the bed rail, fixated on the breath. Hers, then mine.  How separate they were. After years of meditation on the breath, never had I experienced such a sense of now-ness.  The next breath didn't yet exist, and the last one had gone by.  I was struck that I could sit so intimately close to her and yet do nothing to shatter the loneliness of her work. Powerlessness.

As I sat listening to Diane, two women appeared at the door and asked if my friend would like a visit from a dog therapist.  Diane was not able to respond, but I certainly could and I gratefully accepted their offer.  I was utterly delighted by the surprise of this unexpected visitor!  A dog!  A dog! I hustled out into the living room where I met Cody, a very sweet young Shtizu who skipped introductions and immediately began his work.  I sat on the floor, still wrapped in my blanket, while he wrapped himself around my ankles and feet. For an hour I silently kneaded his ears, belly, and back.  Without any sign of boredom or fatigue, he patiently worked with me while I played.  He took his work in stride--he seemed to effortlessly shoulder the weight of my fatigue.  His eyes were bright.  Unafraid.

After our visit, I was at a loss as to how I could thank him.  How does a human being say thank you to a dog? Did he know what it meant to me?  Did he understand how he had soothed me? Humbled by his skill,  I trusted he already understood.  His companionship had shattered the loneliness of my work and with that, I resumed my perch.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Gentle Giant

This Gentle Giant is named Remy.  He's a puppy, not even 6 months old, but he's already the size of a Volvo.  He's playful but benevolent.  The other day I had the unexpected pleasure of an extra visit while his moms were away.  As soon as we were in the yard, he began to tango with me, and as most of the the dogs know, the best way to butter me up is to ask me to dance.  We whirled and twirled and boogied, and in my joy and excitement, I called him Guthrie. Gasp--what a slip!  Guthrie was his predecessor who died last year, rest his soul.  How I loved Guthrie!  But here I was, having fun with this very young and eager Newfie who deserves to claim his own identity and to be called by his rightful name.  I made my apologies and he graciously agreed to continue our dance without holding any grudge.  On the sidelines sat old man Buddy (see Fenway Faithful from 8/23), still trying to come to grips with Papelbon's last inning and when invited to join us, he worked up enough energy to break a little sweat and bury the curse.  The three of us had a lovely visit and enjoyed what may have been the last day of fall, given the amount of snow we are accumulating today.

Remy never knew Guthrie but he certainly echos his traits.  It's incredible how both dogs could be so gigantic and at the same time take up so little space.  I always get a sense of their size by the way they guzzle water from their bowls.  Both manage to get water everywhere.  A bathtub isn't big enough.  And when walking in the back yard, watch your step!  That's huge, too.  Their collars can double as snow tires, and they don't chew wittle wittle treats, they chew logs.  And as massive as their size is their gentleness and loyalty.  They are meek.  Humble. They would never harm you, or call you by the wrong name.  They don't overwhelm others with incessant demands or yapping.  They assume a quiet place and act small, in spite of their mass.  I miss Guthrie, but I'm happy to have a chance to dance with Remy.

And why would a dog want to butter me up?  Why would any dog put his canine-hood on the line with a tango or cha-cha-cha?

Because he's also very smart.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Dog Walker Tip #3

Wear the right shoes.  But now just hold on a minute.  Before you go looking for your beat up 1974 Bean gumshoes or your smelly old sneakers, consider your dog.  Your dog is down there near your feet. Your dog has to look at your feet.  Your choice of shoes carries huge psychological, emotional,  and physical implications. After all, your feet connect you to the earth.  They ground you.  Your head may be up in the clouds, but it's your feet that carry you forward.  What you think might be sensational, but it's your feet that get you there. Our entire cultural progress may quite possibly be carried forward in your feet.  Simply put, your shoes matter.

My random surveys and the empirical evidence indicate that contrary to public opinion, the attitude of the shoe has a greater impact on the quality of the walk than the actual physical make up of the shoe.  Just pause a second and  absorb that idea: attitude over practitude.  My theory is this:  dog walkers know they must be assertive and in command.  Dogs want this.  It gives them a sense of calm to know you move the pack. One of the ways we convey our alpha-ness is in our walk.  Thoreau sauntered; we strut. Every trail, sidewalk and roadway is your runway.  And you can't strut if you're wearing shoes that say hunched-over garden mulcher, dazed grocery shopper, or lazy bum.  And that, my friend, trickles down to poor Spot.  He'll slump, he'll drag, he'll look away. Worse yet, his tail will droop. Remember, Spot has been waiting all day to see you get out of your chair and take the leash in hand.  He's patiently waited while you've emptied the garbage, checked your email, snoozed in front of the game. At last, this is your moment together--a dance atop the surface of the earth that only you two share.  Dress it up!  Be stylin'! Leave a trail! Make him proud!

I suggest cowboy boots, black patent leathers, or gold-toed flats.  Try purple suede clogs. Wear shoes that go clickety-click down the street.  If you're a hot ticket, your dog becomes a hot ticket. Watch and see.  And when other dogs approach, notice as his head is held a little higher and he is especially well-heeled.  When your shoes have the right attitude, your head will follow.  And wherever your head is, so goes your dog's.  Do it for you.  Do it for your dog.  Do it for the world.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


No, Juggles is not one of my dogs, but it could be a clever name for one. I'm talking about actual juggling.  The thing clowns do.  Except that I'm not juggling tennis balls or bean bags.  I'm juggling water.  Cold water.  Water that's loose, not contained. Water that comes out of nowhere and seems to be going everywhere. The kind that you wish to contain, hold, and reroute, to get into an organized, reliable flow.

As part of my work, I got called to respond to a tragedy in NH this past week.  It was the  kind of story that sticks to you.  To my immediate left was a view of humanity at its worst.  To my right, on that very same line and in that very same arena, was the kindest of humanity.  It was like standing with one foot in icy cold water with the other in a gentle pool of warm.  Paradoxical truths. I am not capable of explaining some atrocities or making sense of them anymore than I am able to account for the goodness of people. Some things you just have to hold.  Or put down. But I came home from that experience and needed the company of Artemis and Biscuit.  Arty is a particularly attentive listener, as her picture illustrates.  We walked, I talked, they listened.  They hold it.  Where dogs put the things they hold for us, I don't know.

This picture does not show how in the background the furnace wasn't working.  It wasn't.  It absolutely wasn't.

And during the weekend while the furnace wasn't working and I was finding creative ways of restarting it (kicking it and then dusting it in a complex sequential combination), Diane's condition grew urgently worse.    It's hard to decipher whether it's the tumors themselves or the side effects of her medications that are causing her such difficulty and confusion, but again, it's like water.  We were once able to contain it and put it right where we wanted it.  There was some choice, some control, some method. Now, it's containing us--calling the shots, choosing the speed and velocity of the current, seeping in from all directions.  And like an ocean tide, no amount of will can keep this water from rising.

When I got home the next day, the furnace had stopped responding to my kicking and dusting.  It seemed to just take a seat in the basement and smirk at me.  "Say goodbye to your hot water, sister.  Kiss your 62 degrees goodbye." "Fine. Whatever." I said to It.

Fine, my foot.  Whatever....

With a college tour scheduled that same day, Meredith and I set off for the city.  We ventured forward, hoping our showerlessness would be masked by city distractions.  For a few hours, the power was all ours.  She and I ruled the show, and during our reign, we ruled out this particular college on the basis of a very boring and unimaginative tour.  We assume most colleges have libraries.  And dorms.  And writing tutors.  And Wi-fi. And security.  And activity clubs.  Tell us something about this college.  But I digress....

The next day was a day of hope, change.  The furnace people were coming.  My car was finally getting its estimate for last week's Big Truck Clobbers Little Corolla event.  Diane was feeling better.  Still unshowered, I went to school to do my work and regain control of all things.  The friendly furnace man came and gave me the kind of pastoral reassurance that says "There, there now.  It's all better.  That furnace will never pick on you again. Everything--every single Thing--is now in order."  I nearly bowed down to him.  From there it was on to the body shop where it will only be about $4000 to fix my little car (my little new car).

And then again last night, a bigger wave crashed down on Diane.  Another temporary solution is in place but oh, this water is surging fast.  There are people who help--whose job it is to deal with rising waters and know how best to navigate futility.  They are all on board, and they know best their own powerlessness against this tide.  It creates a sort of fellowship whose purpose is to go with this flow.

On my drive home, I ran through my small list of gratitudes.  These, I can juggle.  I can summon them on demand.  I have some control.  I have a handle on these.  They go right where I place them. The next day will be normal again.
Furnace: check.
Hot water: check.
Heat: check.
Car dents: check.
Job: check.
Quality time with Tucker and Boo: check.
Nursing care for Diane:  check.
See?  Everything is in order.

I walked in to my house at 11:30 pm.  Meredith was standing in the middle of the kitchen.

"Mom, the furnace isn't working."


Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Truck, a Furnace, Some Sky, and a Pair of Boots.

Today the weather was ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh...just so oh-oh-oh.

I was in New Hampshire visiting Diane for the afternoon and the landscape was incredible.  New Hampshire in the fall can be nearly perfect if the weather is just right and today it was just that.  I am not able to describe just how beautiful it was because I would only wreck it by trying so I am left to just leave it to a sigh.

It had been the kind of week that leaves a bit of an aftertaste.  I had a couple presentations and I was short on time at all turns.  To add to the fun, a big grizzly truck clobbered my innocent little car (my innocent little new car) and hit it with enough force that my innocent little new car now needs a new back end and probably a new side panel.  It might actually be easier to list what it doesn't need.  But no one was hurt and the big truck was driven by a very nice and honest man, for which I am grateful, if not inconvenienced.  Ahem...

And then the furnace joined in my fun and for one morning refused to produce hot water.  Believe me--I'm not a furnace guy.  I venture down into the basement cautiously, admittedly because I'm still a little unsure about whether the boogie man exists or not.  And when I get down there, I'm not always entirely convinced I know which gizmo is actually the furnace but I know that when there's no hot water, it involves machinery in the basement.  By some stroke of luck, I identified the appropriate equipment and followed the directions posted on its front.  Voila! Noise!  I stood back--in fact I got way across the basement and cowered in case I had just pressed the Blow Up button and then, seeing we would survive, I called my furnace people.  They are coming to check things out but in the mean time, that button trick got the whole rig moving again and we have hot water, for which I am grateful.

In the midst of all this, I happened to pull on my cowboy boots and wore them to everything--my presentations, my dog walks, my Corolla accidents.  I thought I was wearing them to look smart. I'm not sure how they made me look but I can tell you this:  you can cop one heck of an attitude if you wear them.  And that's what happened. They could hear me comin' alright,  and I didn't get lip from anyone.  Even the dogs were a little more serious when we walked.  These boots meant business and somehow in spite of the sideshows, I got through all the presentations and meetings, for which I am grateful.

And then I got to this day.  As I started to say, the ride to and from New Hampshire was beautiful.  The combination of colorful leaves, the sky, the granite, the weathered shakes--beyond words.  My time with Diane--very dear.  We sorted papers and did some recycling which, in New Hampshire, is painstakingly detailed.  As I drove home, I got to just look again at the view.  I felt so comfortable all of a sudden.  My car (yes, the innocent little new car is drivable) seemed to fit on the road just right.  I fit in the car just right.  The trip fit into my day just right.  The way the landscape fit against the sky--just right.  I can't say why exactly because all my circumstances were exactly the same as they had been, but everything seemed to be the right size, the right shape, and the right time, for which I am grateful.

As I drove along, I looked down and checked my feet.  No cowboy boots. Go figure.

Dog Walker Tip #2: Be the Dog Walker

Don't be the cell phone talker, the ipod shuffler, or the concord grape picker when walking a dog.  Be a dog walker.  Your dog partner knows the difference and will respond in kind.  Own the role, walk the talk, lead with the heart, and use your common scents.

Penny for Your Thoughts

This is Penny.   She's an old girl who carries herself with dignity and elegance.  But there's something else there. She's got a story, I can tell. Yes indeed, I'm highly suspicious of this old girl. Her manners are impeccable, yet I'm convinced she skated on Roller Derby back in the day.  Take her to the Ritz and she knows what all the forks are for and how to properly sip soup, and she can also say that whole Rain in Spain thing, but look more closely. She also has that "Been Around the Block a Few Times" look in her eye that hints at days of chain smoking, shots of scotch, and motorcycle riding. Somewhere under that coat is a tatoo that says Bubbles. Clearly she's been banged up and burned out a few times--her fur is matted and she's got a constant tremor in her hind end (probably nerve damage from one too many body slams against the boards).  But it's also clear from her expression that she has put that life behind her and isn't impressed about much except the day's weather and what you might have in your pocket for her.  Talk with her a bit about the state of the world and the latest in designer dog production and she just sighs, shakes her head, and murmurs 'yeah, yeah, yeah....'.

I don't know her in a formal sense but during my visits with Reilly, Penny can always be found hanging out on the street, or, like the other day, sleeping on Reilly's front stoop.  I thought she was waiting for Reilly but then I realized she was actually waiting for me. As I've gotten to know her through these more informal terms, we chat about the weather or the dampness of the grass or the abundance of worms on the driveway.  I have not met her family--she seems to have free reign of the streets but I can see how they trust her and don't worry too much.  Penny would probably ignore whatever curfews are issued anyhow.

I am particularly fond of her.  For most of my life I've kept a small Steiff airedale on my bureau.  I think my grandfather gave it to me. When I see Penny it's as though my Steiff has come to life and so it feels as though we have known each other for many years.  I like to believe this kind of thing is true.  So I eagerly talk with her and catch her up on my latest news. She'll listen and occasionally have a few comments. And using this familiarity in the way I approach her, I am pretty sure I know what she really, really wants. With a hushed and raspy voice, she'll mumble something about a whiskey and a smoke, but what she truly wants is a cookie.  And it would be so lovely if it could be served it on a plate.  Yes, that's what Penny wants--a little cookie, and a little respect. Please, and thank you very much.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Dog Walker Tip #1

Avoid walking under oak trees in the fall.  Or (if unable to avoid oak trees) wear a helmet.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


It took a full year for me to be able to walk past another Golden without crying a little.  Stickers died in June, 2005.  The timing was terrible but that's how it was--she had cancer, and she was old.  In the foreground, too much was happening and the noise of our lives was very loud.  In the background, Sticks grew more lame and less bright-eyed.  It was a quiet retreat, hardly discernible at first. When we noticed, she was already full of cancer.  It wasn't very long after that--maybe only three months--when she stopped eating, stopped wagging her tail, stopped trying to live.  I tried to reconfigure her symptoms into some other Thing and to attempt a casual step to the right of what was actually happening.  It was time, but not right now. Later maybe. Some other day.  Some other year, maybe. The vet gently brought me back to the present Stickers.  The next afternoon, I held her face in my hands, our foreheads pressed to each other's, and I felt her leave us.  I still have a tuft of her fur and her collar in a drawer next to my bed.  Her ashes are there too.  They'll eventually go with me, whenever and wherever I go.

In the past, I always wanted a next dog, and I wanted it at once.  I love the anticipation that comes with swinging open the side door and knowing that I will be greeted with enthusiasm and warmth.  Anticipation. Such a hopeful and friendly feeling. A gift in itself, if you pay attention to it.  After Caleb, I had to have the next dog and right then, and so I launched an intense search  until I found Stickers, a 6 year old rescue living on a small farm in Western Massachusetts.  She had come from Arizona, the product of a divorce, and she needed a place where she could share her loving kindness.  When we met I knew instantly that we were a match.  She took to my side that day and never left it until that moment in the vet's office several years later.

After she left us, I needed to allow her echo to linger for as long as I could feel it. I couldn't make way for the next dog until her reverberations had grown silent.  It's hard to believe that it has now been four years.  Since then I have befriended many Goldens and I love the ways they remind me of her with their 'golden' kinks and quirks.  But I still do love her as if she never left.  I always will. It's effortless. Someday I'll have another dog, I'm sure. I entertain the idea, and that's where the next dog begins--with the idea. But love leaves an imprint that extends well beyond the physical.  All the memories and those unspoken understandings are still alive and still very nurturing.  Over time their intensities don't dull, but instead grow softer.

The reverberations....they still linger.  I love to listen for them and when they are felt, I savor the gift.  It helps me to remember that goodbye is simply a perspective.  I am learning to anticipate change with the same affection and peace that I anticipated in constancy.

Sticks and I still walk together.  Just not to the eye.

Monday, September 21, 2009


Jasper is Diane's cat.  A loyal companion, his way of tending to her is very dear.  The other day Diane was running a fever and had a hard time getting warm.  Despite the down comforter she had rolled around her, she still shivered within her cocoon.  Jasper knew to slip under the covers and position himself on her belly.  This seemed to help and they spent a quiet night together, sharing warmth and time.

The next day it was evident that Jasper's care had helped to improve Diane's appetite and she was able to enjoy some soup and really good, strong coffee.  As we sat at her kitchen table, we watched her backyard birds dancing from feeder to feeder.  The sun was bright and the sky was full of the impending fall. Jasper sat alongside of us, folding himself into a tidy and compact pillow of quiet assurance and support.  For a little while, he sat squarely in front of me looking right at me, his eyes a deep and restful green.  His gaze on me was so focused that I almost shied away from looking so directly into it, but as I allowed myself to meet him, I felt his trust and understanding.

We have someone in common.  Diane.  We share an affection for her and an enjoyment in hearing the stories she tells of her parents and her sons.  Jasper's an attentive listener and faithful dinner partner.  I'm glad to share my visits with him and I especially appreciate his steadfast presence and readiness to share his warmth.  Jasper sticks close by and knows his role.  I look forward to more visits and more stories with the two of them as fall arrives.  Friends for life, Jasper and Diane.

'Scape Goat

I know, I know.  This is a goat, not a dog.  But he's cute, right?  I think so, but then again I have a soft spot in my heart for goats.  That's because I'm a goat's milk soap person.  Not to reveal any idiosyncrasies (problematic or not), but it's the only kind of soap I'll buy or use.  But that's not why Buck's here in the blog.

I was walking Artemis and Biscuit a few weeks ago and we were on our usual route.  Groton is a suburban town and our idea of a main road is a two-laner that has a stop sign every third or fourth mile and very few side streets that aren't dead ends or unpaved.  But the speed limit on this particular route is 35 miles per hour which makes it one of our bigger main roads.  We don't stay on this road for long before we veer off onto the trails because every seven or eight minutes a car (or two!) may zoom by going 40 mph and for two dogs and a walker also sharing the pavement, well, all kinds of unpleasant things could happen.

As we were heading down the main route for the trails, out of nowhere came Buck the Goat, running at full throttle straight from a short paved dead end towards the big road.  The dogs and I were stopped dead in our tracks in a collective stupor as we watched this goat running in 36 directions at once, looking both exhilarated and utterly freaked out with his freedom.  As he went running towards the Really Big Road ('really big' signifies a road with double yellow lines down the center), he seemed to be shouting "I'm free, I'm free" yet answering himself with "What in the hell?  What in the hell?" clearly not know whether he was coming or going, and way in over his own um, horns.

The dogs and I knew this goat was a gonner if he wasn't stopped and immediately returned to his home.  Having never been involved with escaped goats I figured I should call the police to let them know Buck's whereabouts and the direction in which he was headed.

"Hi Police, It's Alice over here on Big Road.  Just thought you'd be interested in knowing that there's a goat running right down the middle of Big Road (and not in a straight line, I might add) towards Really Big Road.  Just thought you'd want to know".

"Uh-huh.  Who's this again?"

"Alice.  Alice, Artemis and Biscuit."


"So, that's all.  Just thought you should know."


"Just in case you're looking for him".


"Or if anyone calls you looking for him".


"So now you know his location."

"Yup.  Thanks for calling."

"Yeah, wasn't sure if that's the kind of thing you guys like to know about but anyway, [click] just thought I should call".


"Hello?  Hello???"

They must already be on it, I told Artemis and Biscuit.  Artemis gave me a doubtful look but I assured her that you always call the police to let them know about escaped goats.  "Just listen.  Any minute you'll hear sirens", I promised.

Well, minutes went by, followed by more minutes.  No sirens, no blue lights. Assuming they were sending out their undercover agents and using unmarked cars, I decided help their efforts by posting this news on the local listserv, alerting surrounding neighbors of Buck's break out.  Sure enough, the posts began to follow for the rest of the night. "Yup! There's a goat on the Smith's front steps", was one report. "I just saw a goat running towards the golf course", said another.  Eventually a post was sent from Lisa proclaiming herself as Buck's farmer and caretaker, imploring folks to keep her posted on his whereabouts.  She also stressed that this was Buck's very first experience off the farm and that he may not know what to do exactly (understatement...).

According to the listserv the next morning, Buck spent the night in someone's yard and was returned home to his pen that morning, unharmed and with no visible signs of traumatic stress, thankfully.  The whole adventure was fun and quite suspensful for us, and we were very glad that the listserv was helpful in his safe return. It does takes a village.

I have decided to designate myself as Chief of 'Scape Goats" for the Police Department since I believe they may still be trying to solve the case.  I get the importance of undercover work and all, but sometimes it helps to use your media resources.

Say-- if you ever find yourself in Lisa's shoes and chasing a fella like Buck, just call me. Chances are,  I've got your goat.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Dogs of Provincetown

I spent the weekend in Provincetown recently.  If you've ever been there, you know the thrill of standing at the very tippy edge of Massachusetts.  I love that awareness.  All the rest of Massachusetts is that-a-way while the entire Atlantic is this-a-way. Such a thrill. It's also the tippy edge of all kinds of other things and you have to be the kind of person who enjoys living on the edge to fully appreciate its juxtaposition.  I love its outrageousness as much as I love its paradoxical non-chalance.  And if you're looking for tolerance and freedom, then go to P-town.  It's what the Pilgrims had in mind, I'm sure.

I went to cheer on Genilson who was to swim the Harbor for charity.  It was a chilly morning with a drizzle that felt more like late October than mid-September.  Genilson jumped into his wet-suit and very cheerfully said goodbye as he hopped the ferry to the lighthouse starting point.  [Genilson is perfect].  The rest of us huddled together on the beach trying to stay warm and dry, although not really succeeding at either.  While we very, very, very anxiously waited, a crowd grew (see foot note).  Not just a people crowd, but a dog crowd.  Big ones, little ones, short ones, tall ones.  Dogs with hoodies, dogs with bandanas, dogs in tote bags, dogs in buggies.  There were dogs who had no interest in the drumming or festivities and took naps, and there were others who barked in stern protest anytime anyone got a little too excited (speaking of Maeve...).  There was a Golden who stood in tail-deep water to cheer the racers as they made their way to shore.  Back and forth he went, greeting each swimmer with a high five and a wag of the tail.

There was one dog who stole the show and that was a small dachshund who showed everyone, including the swimmers, what determination is all about.  This little might-mite was going to show Massachusetts what erosion protection is supposed to look like, if it took him forever to do it.  'Big Digger' had found a rock that was half the size of his body on the water's edge and he knew that if he could get it moved to just the right spot, he could begin to redirect the damaging tides that routinely threaten Commercial Street.  Hell, not just Commercial street, but the entire Cape and probably the North and South Shores as well.  This little guy dug without rest for the entire morning.  The more he dug, the more the rock travelled.  Up the beach, down the beach, inlets here, inlets there.  Dams go up, dams come down. The rock gets buried, the rock gets lifted. Trenches to the east, trenches to the west.  Bite the rock, lick the rock, wrap it in sand, rinse it of sand.  Such a multi-layered project. While to laypeople like us it wasn't quite clear where exactly he was trying to direct this rock, what was clear was that he had a very detailed plan and method.  We become so engrossed in this project that we nearly missed Genilson as he hauled himself onto shore.  Fortunately, the Golden waved him in and we hustled to the finish line to welcome him home.  We were awfully glad to see him and to hear of his very cold and jellyfish-laden journey.

As the day went on, we met all kinds of dog-folk.  There were the tourist dogs who mostly stared and took pictures of the resident dogs, there were the shop-keeper dogs who lay on the floor and looked warily at you as they silently tick off the days until the season ends. There were the bull dogs with boas and pit-bulls with lipstick who chortled as we went by.  But my favorites were the two dogs on Conant Street who dance, laugh, and swim, and make the tippy edge seem so effortless and safe.

Think:  high seas, great white sharks, jellyfish, rip tides, Genilson non-chalantly not training for this....) No kidding.  Thus very x 3.

Otis, Making a Joyful Noise

Otis the kind of guy who cries during commercials.  You know the type.  Sensitive and thoughtful. In touch with his feelings.  And, he's big and strong.  Very strong. He's an Olympian ball fetcher who never tires, even when the ball is kaput and the thrower's arm has turned to mush.  When the ball comes out of the bag, Otis sounds his trumpet and sings his joyful song from the bottom of his toes to the top of his lungs.  His joy knows no limits--he sings for all to hear, whether it's 6am or 10 pm, and so the thrower learns to quickly get that ball launched to echo (or redirect) his happiness.

His athletic skills qualify him for the Majors.  If I were looking to win the Series, he'd be my shortstop.  No matter where you try to send the ball, he always finds a way to get under it and then rips it home.  Nothing gets past Otis.  In fact, he renders outfielders unnecessary.  And catchers, come to think of it.  He makes home deliveries--and for free.  After he delivers a fetch, he does a bit of a Papelbon-Riverdance-type victory dance.  The greats have their superstitions and rituals, and this is his.

Otis is with me this weekend and I must note that his manners are exceptional.  I would prefer to dine with Otis than some of the two-leggeds I know.  If he could, he would hold the door open for me but instead, he simply nods to say "After you", before we head outside.  This of course earns big points with me.  Other delightful quirks:  he oversleeps in the morning, he leans on my leg, he lays on his belly with his hind legs straight out behind him, he's afraid of the dishwasher, he carries his own leash.

He watched a movie with me last night.  While we watched, he snacked on a sweet potato chip made especially for dogs.  Sara, the daughter Poet in Residence/movie companion, and I both got curious about it--we love anything having to do with sweet potato--so we sniffed it and were seriously (and brazenly) tempted to split it with each other.  Otis patiently waited until we came to our senses and decided to give it back.  But it's so like him to be willing to share it with us.  Sweet Otis. We resumed the movie, Otis leaning against us both, the two of us wrapped in blankets to ward off the fall chill.  The house was still, the kitchen tidy, and the balls were tucked away for next morning's backyard drills.  The movie went very late and was a tear jerker.

Guess who cried.....

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Blog Paws

Recently the computers died here.  I was told they all needed a restore.  Ok, so, let's restore 'em, I thought.  Be nice to them, give them whatever they want, make them happy, just keep them going, I said to the guy.  I've got a blog to write, a Facebook page to maintain, you tubes to watch, a checking account to nurse, and weather to watch, after all. I had an inner panic that, through years of Red Sox 'situations', I've learned to ignore as a way of controlling the outcome, and to then ignore 'The Ignore' as a way to actually control 'The Ignore'. Amazingly, this often works, and this seemed like a worthwhile enough thing to ignore.


I had the Computer Guy come and do his thing.  As he sat with my laptop, he began to say things like:


"That's not good"

"Oh boy...oh boy."

"Not good.  Not good."

"Maybe this will work.  Let me try this.....nope, that's not gonna do it."

"Wow.  I hate computers"

"This isn't looking too good."

"Wow.  I've never seen a computer do this"

At which point I burst into tears and implored him to stop saying such evil things out loud.  The poor guy looked up and blinked, and when he saw I was really and truly crying, he got apologetic and sorry and all, and begged me not to worry.  He spoke in a kind of "Please slowly back away from that ledge, ma'am" voice and so I abruptly turned and went out to the porch where I just sat and sobbed.

It's just that I was already in full swing with another major Ignore Project--the close of summer, the letting go of beloved rituals, and the encroaching start of the academic year, and now here I was--on the verge of losing my whole entire network.  It was just suddenly too much.

And then indeed, my worst fears came true; everything was lost.  Gonzo.  Fried.  Sizzled.  Burned up and out.  DOA. No amount of Restore was going to fix anything.  No amount of Ignore would fix the unfixable.  I don't know why exactly, but right then and there, I just gave up. Just gave up. But I had no choice really.  And, in giving up, along came some new ideas, and some new help.  In short time, I acquired a new and fancy system that runs like a dream and practically changes my oil for me, and while I was settling in with this shiny new machine, I discovered that some of items on my previous Ignore Project have worked themselves out.  School has now started, I am resuming my blog, summer is fading but in a gentle way, the past rituals are replaced with periods of friendly quiet and open space, and thankfully, I am finding new ways of doing old things.

All it took was a little restore.